Naval History and Heritage Command

Naval History and Heritage Command

Personal Log of Commander William H. Emory

U. S. S. “Yosemite”,

At Sea, cruising in a line between

Point Negrill & Cape Crus,

June 15. 1898.

Guantanamo June 23d 1

Memoranda.

     Cruised on a line drawn between Cape Cruz, Cuba, and Point Negrill, Jamaica until midnight <noon> of the 15th when stood for Kingston, Jamaica, blowing fresh and weather so thick as not to be able to distinguish objects. Entered Kingston Harbor and anchored at 11 A.M. and ascertained from the United States Consul that the “Purissimo Concepcion” had sailed at 4 A. M. the same morning.1

     The neutrality laws obliged us to remain in port twenty-four hours. Could we have left it would have been of no avail as the start of seven hours gained by the “Purissimo Concepcion” was too great for her to be overtaken. Upon calling to the Consul’s attention that he had informed me through Captain Brownson2 that the “P. C.” would leave not later than Monday the 13th, he repled that the vessel’s detention beyond Monday was due to him. The Consul learning on June 10th, that the “P. C.” had applied for a change of registry, which would have permitted her to fly English colors, fought the matter out in the courts and gained his case. Although he gained his case he delayed the sailing of the “P. C.” over from Monday morning until Thursday morning. Thus it will be seen that the Consul gave the Admiral one date and himself forced the Spanish vessel to take a later one. There is one satisfaction about the matter and that is: that my judgment that the “P. C.” would make directly for Cape Cruz was correct and had the Consul been consistent the vessel, with a cargo valued at $200,000.00, would certainly have been captured by the “Yosemeite”.

     During the twenty-four hours stay at Kingston<,> received numerous dispatches from the Secretary of the Navy for Admiral Sampson<,>3 and also one from the Secretary informing him me that there were no further orders and that the Army had sailed on June 16th from the Tortugas. There being nothing to detain the vessel further sailed from Kingston on Friday June 17.

     Started to the westward and rounded Point Negrill, the western end of Jamaica, about midnight the same day. The next morning took a look into Montego Bay. Did not anchor, but started for the Cuban coast. H. M. S. “Talbot” cruiser of 5600 tons displacement was anchored at Montego Bay. Sighted Cape Cruz the same afternoon. started down the coast keeping about five miles from the same.

     At 10 A. M. ran under the stern of the Flagship and delivered in person the Department’s dispatches to the Admiral. Passed t[w]o interesting and pleasant hours with the Admiral and his Flag Lieutenant and Assistant chief of Staff, Lieutenant Staunton.4 The admiral asked me when I would be ready to go to Porto Rico; told him that I was ready to go at once. He directed me to go to Guantanamo and take aboard the 600 tons of coal that I needed and then to proceed to join the blockade off San Juan, Porto Rico. The Admiral gave me his verbal instructions while Lieut Marsh,5 the Flag Secretary under the direction of Lieut. Staunton, made out all the necessary papers for my information concerning San Juan.

     Carried to the Admiral, who is an old personal friend of mine, two rolls of Devonshire butter6 and a basket of Alligator Pears and Pomegranates, which he seemed to appreciate very much. Left the Squadron at 1 P. M. and arrived at Guantanamo at 4 P. M. and made fast alongside the collier “Abarenda” commanded by my old friend Buford.7 Since that date, June 19th, we have been coaling at the rate of 160 tons per day. This morning, June 23. we have taken aboard about 500 tons in the bunkers. Besides this we will take about 2000 bags of coal or as many as can be filled by 5 o’clock, at which time the “Yosemite” sails for Porto Rico.

     The newspaper accounts have undoubtedly given full details of the attack upon the battalion of marines we landed at this place about a week ago, an attack upon them which was repeated three successive nights. The truth of the whole story is about as follows: The Marines landed and encamped upon a position chosen by Commander McCalla, who being the Senior Officer, had power to direct. Col. Huntington was told that he need not expect any annoyance from the enemy as they had des<s>erted the peninsula upon which the encampment was made. The tents of the 900 men were pitched on the side of a hill at the foot of which was a valley with a road and a hill opposite less than 1000 yards distant and commanding the encampment. Being in an enemy’s country they should have entrenched the ridge of their own hill, which was large enough for the encampment and have pitched their tents inside the fortified position. This they have<d> not done.

     The night attacks were not made by a force as large as that of the Marines but were made by bushwhackers who could crawl through the thick chaparral like so many snakes. They were armed with the improved Mauserrifle and used smokeless powder, so that in the day time their positions could not be seen as there was no smoke. In the night time their position could be determined only by the flash of their rifles<,> but in the night time they dug rifle pits with their machetes and did not fear pursuit as it is difficult for anyone but a native to negotiate the chaparral in the day night <day> time. To their scanty garments they added palm leaves which made it difficult to discern them, even in the daytime. With a full supply of ammunition, the Spanish force composed of regulars and irregulars, made it very uncomfortable for the Marines for three nights, attacking them on all sides except that occupied by the vessels. On the fourth day it was decided to make a counter attack. This was delivered by the Marines at the encampment of the Spanish force about six miles distant. The Spaniards were surrounded on three sides and their force, composed of six companies, was entirely routed with the loss of a large number killed and wounded. Since this engagement the Spaniards appear to have left the peninsula, at least in the vicinity of the encampment.8 During our absence the battleship “Texas” and the “Marblehead” made an attack on the fort situated about three miles from here and in a few minutes silenced it. There was no reply worthy of mention. In making this attack the propellers of both ships brought to the surface a torpedo of the French construction of 1896 – a contact torpedo containing a charge of 54 Kilos of gun cotton. These torpedos were of the most approved type but failed to function as they had been submerged since April and the animal growth which is so great in these waters, completely prevented the action of the levers which would have discharged the torpedo. Since that date, however, about five days ago, the ships have left Caymanera9 and the forts alone. They have, since the attack, been sweeping the channel for mines and have already secured 11 seven of the twelve supposed to have been planted in April last.

     If any criticism is written after the war between the United States and Spain is over, it will be that the lessons taught add but little to those taught <learned> by the China-Japaneese war,10 as far as the different types of vessels and the different appliances and materiel are concerned, as with the exception of Manila Bay, where the Spanish ships were obsolete, no object lesson has been offered.

     There is one great exception, however, as far as the materiel of war is concerned. The torpedo, as used in the mine fields, will take the most prominent position. For it is the submarine mines that have kept our vessels out of Porto Rico, out of Havana, out of Santiago, out of Caymanera, and other ports. In fact it is the unknown, and I think greatly over estimated danger of these submarine mines which have proved so important a factor in this war. This fact will not add greatly to our reputation for dash, for with the exception of Dewey none have dared the risk. It is my belief that the Boca Chica Passage and the Roads of Cavite were mined11 same as Santiago and other places. I think it is greatly to be regretted that so much attention has been paid to these mine fields for it is my belief that all of the mine fields before mentioned could have been successfully passed as it is the history of the submarine mine that it refuses to function after it has been planted several days on account of the submarine growth interfering with the mechanism of the torpedo. We could well spare several ships in investigating this matter. Had we done so, the war would now, probably be over. The Navy would have had a glorious history in it and the Army would have been left at home.

     The Cuban Army at this place embraces about 400 men of all views hues and colors and are about the worst looking band of cut-throats I have ever seen collected together. There is no question of their intense patriotism and great bravery. They will be of great assistance to our troops, not only from their knowledge of the topography but also as an object lesson to our own soldiers to adapt themselves to the fighting conditions of this country. The Cuban Army encampment is on the shore just below that of the Marines.

     Fremont,12 commanding the torpedo boat “Porter” came alongside last night and told me that about three-fourths of the Army had landed in the Bay of Alcaras.13 This is the Bay protected by the Fort which the “Yosemite” shelled about ten days ago. The Army met with no opposition.

     This brings my personal log up to 7 A. M. the 23rd of June. Will close it now as it will have to be typewritten for the mail for by the “Panther” which is posted to leave at noon to-day.

Source Note: TD, DLC-MSS, Papers of William H. Emory. Someone went through the log and crossed out certain words and replaced them with interlineated words. They also, on occasion, added punctuation. Both the interlineated words and punctuation, which were added in pencil and pen, have been indicated by the editors with angle brackets. The “editor” of this log added a line from the crossed through portion of the place/date line to the end of a sentence about three-fourths of the way down the second paragraph. That is the end-date for the events covered by that portion of the place/date line. Finally, the person who typed the log made changes. Those words that were x’d out by the typist and replaced with other words have been indicated by a cross-through but without an angle bracket for the replacement text.

Footnote 1: Louis A. Dent, American consul at Kingston, Jamaica. PurisimaConcepción was a Spanish steamer reportedly carrying foodstuffs and $100,000 in gold. It arrived safely at Manzanillo, Cuba, on 19 June. Reportedly, at about 5 A.M. on 16 June Yosemite passed the merchantman as the latter left neutral Jamaican waters. There was no mention of this encounter in the log of the Yosemite but the incident subsequently sparked a great deal of controversy. The first point of dispute was the weather at the time of the encounter. Emory in this log and in a later official report called it “thick”; in the log entry on that date of the Yosemite the weather is reported as “clear.” Also, newspapers in Michigan—the crew and most of the officers aboard Yosemite were Michigan naval militiamen—later speculated that it was carelessness or bungling caused by drunkenness on the part of the officer of the watch, a member of the Michigan militia, that allowed the merchantman to pass the American warship without incident. Later, Henry B. Joy, the chief boatswain’s mate on Yosemite, published a spirited defense of that officer, Lt. Gilbert Wilkes, arguing that Wilkes had repeatedly notified Emory about the presence of the Spanish steamer but that Emory had pointedly ignored those reports. See, New York Times, 17 and 23 June 1898; Joseph S. Stringham, The Story of the USS Yosemite (Detroit: Self-published, 1929), 22. Henry B. Joy, The U.S.S. Yosemite, Purisima Concepcion Incident, June 16, 1898 (Detroit: Self-published, 1937), 6-7.

Footnote 2: Cmdr. Willard H. Brownson, commander of cruiser Yankee.

Footnote 3: RAdm. William T. Sampson, Commander, North Atlantic Fleet.

Footnote 4: Lt. Sidney A. Staunton.

Footnote 5: Lt. Charles C. Marsh.

Footnote 6: Probably, clotted cream.

Footnote 7: Lt. Cmdr. Marcus B. Buford. In another log entry of 11 June, Emory wrote that Buford had graduated from the “naval school” a year before Emory but had resigned his commission “about fifteen years ago to try his hand at ranching.” He added that all the commanders of the Navy’s colliers were graduates of the Naval Academy who had resigned but “returned to service for the war.” Albert Gleaves, ed., The Life of An American Sailor: Rear Admiral William Hemsley Emory United States Navy. From His Letters and Memoirs (New York: George H. Doran Co., 1923), 244.

Footnote 8: On the landing of the marines at Guantánamo, the attacks on them by the Spanish, and the expedition against the Cuzco well, see: Robert W. Huntington to Charles Heywood, 17 June 1898. Cmdr. Bowman M. McCalla, in his autobiography which also covers these events and is printed here, credits the landing of a party of Cuban revolutionaries with ending the attacks on the marines. See: Passages from McCalla Autobiography.

Footnote 9: That is, Caimanera, Cuba.

Footnote 10: The Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95.

Footnote 11: Boca Chica was one of the channels leading to Manila Bay; Cavite was the anchorage from which the Spanish fleet fought the battle.

Footnote 12: Lt. John C. Fremont, Jr.

Footnote 13: That is, Ensenada de los Altares, known more widely as Siboney. The army landed there and at near-by Daiquirí.

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